Paul L. Caron
Dean



Thursday, September 3, 2020

Randall Kennedy: How Racist Are Universities, Really?

Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  How Racist Are Universities, Really?,  by Randall Kennedy (Harvard):

It is no surprise that universities have become targets of the activism erupting in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. University police forces have been implicated in racist malfeasance. Universities oversee labor forces which reflect the class and racial divisions partitioning society at large. Universities are the site of cultural battles over iconography (Calhoun College at Yale, the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, Washington and Lee), and the propriety of taking race into account in admissions. At a time when racial reckonings have visited the NFL and Nascar, The New York Times and Vogue, Minneapolis and Mississippi, it was inevitable that they would visit campuses, too. ...

These and similar protests are part of an international eruption of outrage against racism and an insistence that positive change — real change — be pursued immediately. That dissent is splendid in many respects, displaying creativity, persistence, and bravery in demanding the redress of long-neglected racial wrongs. After all, according to virtually every indicator of well-being imaginable — life expectancy, wealth, income, access to education and health care, risk of victimization by violent criminality, likelihood of being arrested or incarcerated — a distinct, adverse gap separates Blacks from whites. The dissidents and their allies have refused to allow business to proceed as usual. They have pushed racial inequity to the front of popular consciousness. They have crammed into a couple of months more public education about matters of race than has taken place in years. They have been the heroes of the George Floyd moment.

But being on the side of anti-racism is no inoculation against error. An allegation of systemic racism leveled against a university is a serious charge. If the allegation is substantiated, it ought to occasion protest and rectification commensurate with the wrong. If an allegation is flimsy or baseless, however, it ought to be recognized as such. Engaging in the urgent work of anti-racist activism should entail avoidance of mistaken charges that cause wrongful injury, exacerbate confusion, and sow distrust that ultimately weakens the struggle.

One might wonder about the need to voice such an obvious observation. The fact is that this moment of laudable protest has been shadowed by a rise in complacency and opportunism. Some charges of racism are simply untenable. Some complainants are careless about fact-finding and analysis. And some propose coercive policies that would disastrously inhibit academic freedom. ...

The evasiveness, if not mendacity, of administrators is a large part of the problem. They often pander to protestors, issuing faux mea culpas that any but the most gullible observers recognize as mere public relations ruses aimed at pacification. ...

Non-governmental cultural institutions — newspapers, journals, museums, and so on — are essential, vulnerable, and under attack. This is particularly true of the selective, cosmopolitan research colleges and universities, which many on the political right especially loathe. The aspiration of those institutions is to search for truth, cultivate knowledge, and nourish and satisfy curiosities about virtually everything. They fall short, of course, as do all institutions. But nowhere in American society is more of a concerted and intelligent effort being made to exemplify respect and collaboration. The Princeton ultimatum engages in unwarranted vilification, which is wrong. For progressives, such vilification is also profoundly self-defeating.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2020/09/randall-kennedy-how-racist-are-universities-really.html

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Comments

Quote: "After all, according to virtually every indicator of well-being imaginable — life expectancy, wealth, income, access to education and health care, risk of victimization by violent criminality, likelihood of being arrested or incarcerated — a distinct, adverse gap separates Blacks from whites."

The first three, life expectancy, wealth, and income, flow from the rest of the items that list, so we need to examine them and their causes.

1. For "access to education and health care," some of the worst numbers are those from major cities that have been controlled for decades by Democrats. In addition, in almost all cases, those Democrats, whether white or black, are elected by black voters. How can white people living outside those cities be responsible for the fact that big city blacks typically elected crooks and incompetent who give them rotten schools and poor public services? Doesn't it make more sense to blame those Democratic politicians and their party in general? Don't those black voters share some of the blame for that?
2. For "risk of victimization by violent criminality, likelihood of being arrested or incarcerated," the numbers are equally clear. Violent criminality directed at black people, including murders, is grossly and disproportionately black-on-black. And given those high black-on-black crime rates, why is it a bad thing that disproportionate numbers black criminals (in comparison to whites or Asians) are arrested and incarcerated?

Note a difference. Affluent white neighborhoods believe that their lives are made better when crimes in their neighborhoods are punished. Is there something about poor black neighborhoods that make their high crime rate so beneficial that the community is better off it criminals are not sent to prison? That is what these people seem to be saying. Is an elderly black woman better off if, after she's been mugged and perhaps beaten by a drug-addled black thug, that thug remains on the street to mug her again? I think not.

The madness of the views espoused in this article make a lie out of its author's claim that "selective, cosmopolitan research colleges and universities" aspire to "to search for truth, cultivate knowledge, and nourish and satisfy curiosities about virtually everything." The do nothing of that and have instead become Orwellian pits of Right Think. How ironic, too, that the very radicals that they have pandered to have turned on them. When you abandon reason and evidence for blind dogmas such as "systemic racism," you shouldn't be surprised that you're attacked by those who even further removed from reason and evidence.

Posted by: Mike Perry | Sep 3, 2020 10:21:08 AM

If one talks about systemic racism, one thing that comes to mind is alumni preferences in admissions. Yes, sometimes non-white children of alumni benefit but my guess is that overwhelmingly alumni admissions preferences benefit the dominant racial/caste groups. I would just get rid of any such preferences. There is no ideal approach to college admissions, but I find it difficult to see the argument for continuing alumni preferences, whether you call it racist or not.

Posted by: Victor Thuronyi | Sep 3, 2020 10:32:31 AM

It’s nice to see someone that hasn’t gone crazy

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Sep 4, 2020 2:32:37 AM

What an epic throat-clearing.

Posted by: B | Sep 4, 2020 6:33:50 AM

The title of the article illustrates the absurdity of the current wave of activism on campus. If they are racist, the most progressive, left-wing places that a free society tolerates, what does that say about them? And shouldn't students be advocating for the dismantling and abolishment of higher education?

Then again, who needs to be morally consistent when you've got to justify your existence in a largely taxpayer-financed, non-competitive, tenured bureaucracy?

Posted by: MM Classic | Sep 7, 2020 8:50:13 PM